I was musing about the mutability of language. As a middle-aged man, I’m now old enough that the meanings of some words have changed in my lifetime. One is ‘printer.’
When I was a kid, a printer was a person (usually a man) who made prints. It was the same as being a blacksmith or doctor: if you needed something printing, you would take it to a printer.
Now, a printer is an object. It is a machine attached to a computer which renders physical hard copies. We print things at home now and this has become so routine, so mundane that we rarely stop to marvel at the process.
Watching Stephen Fry‘s program on Gutenberg, seeing his giddy wonder at printing out just one sheet of typeset print made me remember the decades before the personal computer revolution. If you wanted to print out a recipe or a personalised birthday card or some silly party invites or a picture of a jizzing cock… well, you went to a printer.
In a rather lovely way, the second person replaced by a machine is something I’ve already mentioned: a computer.
This one is rather before my time:
Before [electronic] computers became commercially available, the term “computer”, in use from the mid 17th century, literally meant “one who computes”: a person performing mathematical calculations. Teams of people were frequently used to undertake long and often tedious calculations; the work was divided so that this could be done in parallel.
I only know about this original usage of ‘computer’ because I’m something of an Alan Turing obsessive and so I’ve read about Bletchley Park. That was a kind of lexical torch-passing: computer (person) to computer (machine).
I wonder what contemporary professions will be replaced by objects in the future? Doctor? Lawyer?